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Developer:
Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: GameCube
Release Date: February 10, 2003

by Ronald Wartow




Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (FFCC) is a first-rate action, third-person, hack and slash RPG targeted for up to 4 multiple players, that also succeeds as a gripping single player adventure. Though the game exhibits the highest of production values and has a Final Fantasy feel, unlike the typical game in the series, FFCC contains no sprawling, startling plot, extravagant cutscenes that advance the story, or a massive world in which to ramble. However, FFCC makes up for this by providing engaging, though repetitive, gameplay, and affords GameCube owners a quality RPG, a genre essentially ignored on that console system.


What immediately follows is to alert potential purchasers to the gameís onerous hardware requirements for multiplayer, and stripped down features for single player. In what can only be described as quizzical, FFCCís multiplayer mode requires each player to use a Nintendo Game Boy Advance or SP as a controller, hooked up to the GameCube with a link cable. Thatís right, owning a GameCube is not enough to enjoy FFCC in multiplayer with your friends. Imagine, having to own two entertainment systems to play just one game! (Single player mercifully and normally only requires the standard GameCube controller.) Another debilitating circumstance is that many helpful game features, and even minigames that are accessible in multiplayer are not available in single player.


Gameplay

Character creation is simple. At the start, you get to name your hometown. Then, you create up to 8 in the caravan from the 4 tribes, providing a typical range of skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Choose the spellcasting mage or the brawler, for instance. Then, you select an occupation for your family, such as Blacksmith or Alchemist. Throughout the game, your familyís occupation grants the player special items and favors.


Each hometown sends out a caravan. The principal mission of your hometown caravan is to conquer 3 dungeons per year, and in so doing collect myrrh to keep the townís protective crystal alive and well. The caravan and its members can deal with the fatal mist that blankets the world by carrying a crystal chalice, which, incidentally, houses the myrrh drops collected. In single player, the chalice is toted around by Mog, a Moogle, apparently immune to the mist, and a refreshing tribute to past Final Fantasyís; in multiplayer, one of the party members is responsible for carrying the chalice.


FFCC takes place principally in disparate, impressive dungeons, some of which must be visited more than once to advance the plot. The whole idea is to plow through the hordes of monsters, solving relatively simple manipulation puzzles along the way, gathering artifacts and items, all to reach the dungeonís boss. You must accomplish this without any ability to save in a dungeon, which makes for many harrowing moments along the way. Fortunately, the enhancing characteristics of found artifacts attaches to the player instantly upon discovery. When the boss is defeated, a drop of the precious myrrh is poured into the crystal chalice, bonus points are awarded for successfully fulfilling random conditions (for example, successfully completing the dungeon without using magic spells), and the player may choose a single artifact from those found or otherwise presented at levelís end.


There is no typical RPG leveling in FFCC. Rather, the character enhancement scheme is the cornerstone of the nearly perfect balance provided by this gaming experience. As you progress through the game, each new dungeon affords the player an opportunity to gather valuable, diverse, and powerful artifacts each of which significantly enhances the player's attributes or stats -- +2 to Strength or an additional life heart are examples of this. New weapons and armor can be forged by town blacksmiths from plans and special materials found only in the dungeons. By nature, these items increase player stats permanently. There is also an equip slot for a special accessory that generally provides status bonuses.


This scheme prevents wholesale, wanton leveling and provides for gradual character improvement, seemingly just enough to tackle the next toughest dungeon. It also provided some wonderfully anxious moments, particularly at your initial breach of a dungeon, hoping that defeated enemies will give up the valued Cure Stone, or your other favorites.


Combat is in real-time against a variety of ever-tougher monsters, pausing only when the player activates the menu structure for item usage or other purposes. What actions a player can take are governed by the number of so-called command slots. You begin the game with 4 slots, 2 of which are for Attack and Defend. The attack can be a direct attack by simply pressing the A button or a focused attack from a distance that concentrates a weapons special power to do more devastating damage. Other slots are for items and spells. Rapidly pressing the A button turns a normal attack into one unleashing devastating combos on the monsters. The simple left or right press of the GameCube controllerís shoulder buttons cycles through your command slot options for easy access in the heat of battle. This system is similar to that used in the .hack series of games.


Magic is in the form of instantly recognizable spells from different, magicite stones found in dungeons. Some examples are Blizzard, Lightning, Fire, Life, and Cure. As your command slots increase, the player can fuse spells in adjacent slots. For example, 2 Fire spells in adjoining slots creates the next higher spell of that set, Firaga; 3 Fire spells makes Fira. Weapons, items, and even non-combat spells can be fused to create many effective, loftier spells, and magical effects. Each spell has built-in delays before executing. These delays range from almost nonexistent for simple spells to quite long for the most powerful spells. Efficient strategy is necessary for spellcasting, and separation between the player and attacking monsters is usually the answer. If the player is successfully hit by a monster during the process of spellcasting, the spell fizzles.


When you complete a yearís myrrh collection requirements, there is an innovative summary of everything that the caravan experienced during that year. All this is superimposed atop a joyous celebration, beautifully depicted onscreen. Essentially, this puts all the events recorded in the gameís handy diary before the player to relive in glory.


Side quests are few and far between. There are some fun extras like painting Mog different colors and patterns, getting the Mog Houses scattered throughout the world to imprint a Stamp Card, and a few minigames. Unfortunately, the minigames can only be played in multiplayer.


Multiplayer, despite the quixotic hardware necessities, is the way the game was meant to be played. The players, all appearing on a single screen, need to cooperate, especially during combat. Particularly interesting is that there is no spell or item fusion as in single player. Rather, the party members must cooperate in casting the same spell almost simultaneously to create the more powerful spell. This requires split second timing, but the payoffs are impressive. A massive amount of information is available to the player, in multiplayer, on the Game Boy screen. Each player has different information, so communication is essential to success; each player can perform inventory and equipment management tasks from the Game Boy controller. Finally, there is an interesting competitive aspect to multiplayer, for the player awarded the most bonus points gets first pick from the artifacts litter after a dungeon boss is defeated.


Graphics, Music, and Sound

The graphic appearance of FFCC is nothing short of astonishing, not unexpected given the track record of the developers. The music has a medieval feel to it. There are no inspiring anthems or complex orchestral arrangements. However, when your long trek through a dungeon finds you entering the lair of the boss, the music turns low, sinister, and downright creepy. Thereís no mistaking when a boss fight is upon the party. Sounds are fresh, appropriate, and provide feedback to whatís upcoming like the approach of monsters, or whether your combat blow hits or misses.


Criticisms

FFCC, for all its merit, exhibits the following annoying weaknesses:

  • In single player, unlike multiplayer, there are no dungeon interior maps, or radar, bonus or dungeon information screens, or the ability to play minigames. I wished for a helpful map, as some of the dungeons are quite extensive and tricky, and the more information a player has, the better. The single player not knowing the bonus condition completely takes away an interesting element of multiplayer gameplay.
  • Most encounters on the world map were hollow. While few advance the plot, youíll be exchanging greetings and inconsequential items with caravans from other towns way too frequently.
  • Just as in multiplayer exploration, in multiplayer combat, one player must bear the burden of carrying the chalice. This reduces one of the players to making sure the other players fighting their brains out are within the chaliceís field of influence. If not, life will drain from a player in addition to whatever blows the monsters are inflicting. The chalice carrier can drop the chalice and fight, but that leaves everyone to concentrate not only on the usual numerous opponents swirling in the vicinity, but one eye must be kept on the chalice.
  • The camera can get confusing from time to time, and I found myself involuntarily twisting my head to get a better, accurate viewpoint. There is no ability to swing the camera in any direction to gain an improved perspective. I would have liked to see an option found in many games that, with a button press, places the third-person perspective directly behind the party.
  • Thereís no ability to autotarget a specific opponent during combat. Such a feature is common in action RPGís, and it is curious why it was not implemented.


Bottom Line

FFCC clearly shines in the graphic, music, and sound department. All the environments are truly atmospheric and make a player feel as if he/she actually were in a dungeon. The gameplay is very compelling and never seemed to get old. All this, the ready replayability because of the various character classes, plus the glut of things to do wrap around a decent story, make for a gameplay experience in the 20-60 hour range.


That said, the debilitating single-player deficiencies, along with the outrageous hardware requirements for multiplayer caused my rating to take a significant hit downward.


Final Grade: 80%




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